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    December 19, 2006

    Who cares if they 'told'?

    Posted by: Chris

    Salute Not the soldiers and sailors they serve with, apparently.  A new Zogby poll released today by the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network found that almost three-quarters (73%) of U.S. military personnel are comfortable around gays, and nearly one-quarter (23%) know for sure that someone in their unit is gay. 

    Among 545 troops who served combat duty in Iraq or Afghanistan, 21% knew gays in their unit and nearly half (45%) suspected they did.  A press release on the poll indicates "few said service [by gays] undermined morale," but didn't give a number.

    These survey results strike at the core of the real justification of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," which has never been about whether out gay men and lesbians can serve effectively.  No one is still arguing the "old saw" that homosexuality is incompatible with military service.  In fact, the Army was embarrassed recently by an old document that listed homosexuality as a mental illness and quickly changed the wording.

    And it's not about service members' "privacy."  If the goal of the policy were really to protect straight troops from sharing close quarters with gay troops, then the full-fledged ban we used to have on service by gays was the way to do that.  "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" allows gays to serve in those close quarters, so long as they don't reveal their sexual orientation. 

    An official policy of letting gays serve but only in the closet actually undermines the privacy of straight troops more than would lifting the ban.  If straight soldiers knew who in their unit was gay, they could take steps to protect their privacy, and out gay soldiers would no doubt make every effort not to be seen looking where they shouldn't.  It's the closeted troops who can stare all they want.

    No, the policy isn't about privacy, but about protecting straight troops from their own supposed homophobia.  That's what is meant by the risk to "unit cohesion" — not from gay personnel but the prejudiced reaction to openly gay personnel from their straight colleagues. It's what makes the military ban the most insidious form of discrimination in the U.S. today.  Not only is it official goverment bias against gays; but unlike limits on marriage, it's based not on homophobia but on catering to it.

    The supposed "judicial activists" in U.S. courts have mostly rejected constitutional challenges to "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," deferring to Congress' ability to regulate the military.  These decisions ignore clear Supreme Court prejudice, established in a case about neighbors objecting to a home for the mentally disabled in Texas, that says the Constitution does not require the government to eradicate private prejudice, but it does not permit the government to give that prejudice official effect, either.

    Fortunately, even the unconstitutional justification for "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is fading along with societal prejudice against gays generally.  Back in 1993, when Bill Clinton's promise to let gays serve caused such a ruckus, support for gay service members among members of the military was at only 13%.  Those worried about homophobic reactions to out gay soldiers and sailors could point to those numbers to support their worries about "unit cohesion."

    But a 2004 Annenberg poll cited by SLDN put that number at more than half; and Gallup says some 79% of the general public support lifting the ban.  Now this Zogby poll shows almost three-quarters are comfortable with gays, so the question to be asked is how long we continue catering to the prejudice of the remaining few.

    Some would argue that the risk is too great to change the policy in the midst of war, but U.S. forces are already serving in Iraq and Afghanistan alongside units from the U.K., Canada, and most other European countries that allow out gays in their ranks.  And with the military struggling to meet recruiting goals, we don't have a person to waste, as President Clinton was fond of saying.



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    1. KJ on Dec 19, 2006 5:04:18 PM:

      I look forward to the day when those who follow us look back and can't believe it was an issue. I think we are seeing that that won't be in the too distant future. I do wish that it could happen simply because it's the right thing to do and not out of desperation to meet quotas.

    1. Mikell on Dec 19, 2006 7:21:33 PM:

      As a person that served, pre DADT, in one unit where people knew I was gay, and one unit where nobody knew I was gay, I'd say: I'll take the quotas if that's what does in this stupid policy.

      Eventually, it won't be needed (the quota).

    1. Alan on Dec 20, 2006 1:18:58 PM:

      DADT goes well beyond the military. It encapsulates the whole American attitude towards homosexuality. The majority don't care until it is "shoved" in their faces. They believe in Live And Let Live (as any small town queer in the south or church choir member in the north will tell you). However the TELL part of DADT forces them to have to reconcile the concept of an abstract homosexulaity with the reality of a real human being that they might know. It's easier to demonize the "other" when it's not someone you know. We need to abolish DADT from both the military and everyday life.

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